Sunday, May 31, 2009

NYT Monday 6/1/09 - Changing of the Guard

This New York Times crossword neatly ties in with the historic arrival of a new host on The Tonight Show. Unfamiliarity with the first two theme names meant I solved this a little slower than some Monday puzzles, but at least I knew the last three. Here's Conan O'Brien talking about the upcoming "changing of the guard" back in February.

The compiler had great luck (or is a genius at spotting opportunities) with the names: three of the hosts have the same length first and last name. Conan O'Brien is anomalous, but could be paired up with Tonight Show. The could go opposite Jay, leaving only Leno on the loose (for which host comes to the rescue).
Solving time: 8 mins (no cheating)
Clue of the puzz: 22d lea {Good place to have a cow?}

58a The, 59a Tonight Show {TV home for this puzzle's five featured TV personalities}. Every 53a host {Desk job at 58 & 59-Across?} in the show's history appears in the grid:
1a Steve, 66a Allen {First in a series of five TV personalities (1954-57)}
6a Jack, 65a Paar {Second in a series of five TV personalities (1957-62)}
34a Johnny, 35a Carson {Third in a series of five TV personalities (1962-92)}
19a Jay, 22a Leno {Fourth in a series of five TV personalities (1992-2009)}
17a Conan O'Brien {Fifth in a series of five TV personalities (starting June 1, 2009)}

John Farmer
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersJohn Farmer / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 41 (18.2%) black squares
Answers78 (average length 4.72)
Theme squares66 (35.9%)
Scrabble points284 (average 1.54)
New To Me

29d Ince {Early film director Thomas H. ___}. Thomas H. Ince (18821924) did pretty much everything there was to do in silent films: acting, directing, producing and writing. His mysterious death on board William Randolph Hearst's luxury yacht became the subject of The Cat's Meow in 2001.

43d Ashton {Actor Kutcher}. Ashton Kutcher is the TV and film actor best known for portraying Michael Kelso in That '70s Show. He's married to Demi Moore.

45d Olsens {Twins Mary-Kate and Ashley}. The Olsen twins are identical, which helped them get work from a ridiculously young age: child labor laws could be gotten around by swapping one for the other when they played Michelle on Full House.

54d Rona {Jaffe or Barrett}. Rona Jaffe (19312005) was an American novelist, famous for a controversial novel about the dangers of Dungeons & Dragons, Mazes and Monsters. Rona Barrett is a retired Hollywood expert. In one of those nice coincidences, I found a clip of her with Jack Paar (but not on The Tonight Show) from 1973.

57d Owen {Wilson of "Zoolander"}. I hadn't heard of Zoolander before, knowing Owen Wilson mostly for his performance in Wedding Crashers. Owen and Ben Stiller play male models Hansel and Derek.


ern24a aesir {Norse race of gods}; 3d erns {Sea eagles}. Answers like these make me think we wouldn't have seen this puzzle on a Monday, were it not for the tie-in. I only know these words from crosswords: aesir because its singular as makes a helpful fragment in advanced cryptic cluing; and ern(e)s because it's a common answer in every type of puzzle where it's deemed acceptable.

Mimi25a Mimi {"La Bohème" heroine}. No difficulties here, as our dog Mimi is named after the character in one of Puccini's finest. It's now just over a year since Mimi chose us at the dog shelter. Here she is in the back of her car, where she'd spend all day if there was someone willing to keep chauffeuring her around.

42a Deneuve {French actress Catherine}. The performance I most associate Catherine Deneuve with is her portrayal of the theater director's wife in Le Dernier métro (1980).

Bart Cow22d lea {Good place to have a cow?}. I like this clue, though the answer is again a bit obscure. Did the expression "to have a cow" start with Bart Simpson, or did he just popularize it? Wikipedia thinks don't have a cow predates Bart and is possibly of British origin (which I doubt as I never heard it before The Simpsons came on the scene).

STL60d STL {Letters on a Cardinals cap}. Coincidentally, I chose an STL hat as an image in yesterday's blog. So it shouldn't be difficult to find it again.

The Rest

10a IBM {"Think" sloganeer}; 13a errors {Dropped flies and bad throws, in baseball}; 15a alee {Sheltered from the wind}; 16a NEA {Teachers' org.}; 20a TDs {Football six-pointers, for short}; 21a in ages {Since way back when}; 23a lesson {Teacher's teaching}; 28a intimates {Closest friends}; 30a at peace {Free from worry}; 33a one {Two halved}; 40a tam {Scot's cap}; 43a abominate {Despise}; 48a snag {Minor hang-up}; 49a solos {Unaccompanied performances}; 50a gibe at {Taunt}; 54a reduce {Decrease}; 55a pro {Con's opposite}; 61a -oon {Suffix with ball}; 62a ante {Opening stake}; 63a on time {Prompt}; 64a nos {Telephone book info: Abbr.}.

1d sect {Religious offshoot}; 2d trod {Trampled}; 4d VOA {U.S. broadcaster overseas}; 5d Ernie {Bert's "Sesame Street" pal}; 6d jargon {Tech talk, e.g.}; 7d alien to {Not consistent with, as a way of thinking}; 8d cees {Middling grades}; 9d Ken {Author Follett}; 10d in jest {How quips are delivered}; 11d beanie {Close-fitting cap}; 12d mayors {City hall leaders}; 14d sons {Daughters' counterparts}; 18d Basie {Bandleader Count ___}; 23d lien {Property claim}; 24d a mean {"He doesn't have ___ bone in his body"}; 25d Maj. {Not minor: Abbr.}; 26d I to {"How was ___ know?"}; 27d mph {Speed limit abbr.}; 31d antis {"Nay" sayers}; 32d cyan {Shade of blue}; 36d rest {Observe the Sabbath}; 37d sun {The Sabbath, to Christians: Abbr.}; 38d ova {Eggs in a lab}; 39d neg. {Less than zero: Abbr.}; 41d magenta {Purplish tint}; 42d debug {Clear of defects, as software}; 44d boohoo {[Sob!]}; 46d mot {Bon ___ (clever remark)}; 47d tidier {Neater}; 51d echo {Bounce back, as sound}; 52d Aetna {Insurance provider since 1850}; 55d Phil {Grammy-winning Collins}; 56d Rome {All roads lead to this, they say}; 59d tap {Strike lightly}.

NPR Puzzle -- 5/31/09 Red Alien Twins: Idle Twin Earns its Winner Lead

Here's the takeaway puzzle for this week:
Take "Indian wrestle," rearrange the 13 letters to get three words that are all related. What are they? Hint: The word lengths are five, four and four letters, respectively.
Now, here's where we get into the "cheating/not cheating" debate. As soon as Will announced the challenge, I thought, "Oh, I know how to solve it," thinking of Ross's software Wordplay Wizard. It's a totally cool program (my personal fave) that works out all the different ways you might devise a cryptic clue for a word or phrase. As anagrams are a particularly tasty way to devise a cryptic clue (and among the easiest for a non-Brit to spot and therefore solve), Wordplay Wizard gives you all the complete (i.e., using all the letters) and partial anagrams for your answer.

Ah, but there are other ways of solving such a puzzle. For example, you can psych out the setter. In this case, you think, "Well, could it be related to either Indians (Native American, or Asian Indians) or wrestling?" And if that doesn't pan out, you might think, "Well, if they're all related, then perhaps I'm looking for three items in a list of items." And finally, you might think, "What words can I find in those letters?" Get out the Scrabble tiles, if need be.

All this was going through my mind, even as I was getting out of bed (we'd slept late, again, and listened to the puzzle in bed). Just as my feet hit the floor, I solved it, the three words tumbling out of my mouth almost without my thinking about them. That's not cheating, but it sure wasn't hard, and I don't see how it's all that much of an accomplishment.

Whereas, going to Wordplay Wizard for the answer would have been hard work. There are over 3,250 different permutations of letters that result in over 9,000 words in two- and three-word combinations. I'm awfully proud of my spotting some of the more interesting alternatives to Will's resident in-law puzzle. In addition to the title, I've tried to compose some (almost) intelligible text:
NW residential winner details: isn't wild Ranee, a wilted sinner; as winner led it, nine wild tears. Real twins dine, learned twin is an elder twin & is a winner, led its resilient dawn. "I lasted: a winner!"
So here's my question: Which of the titular Red Alien Twins is the real cheat: just having the answer come to you, or you go & find the answer? And does your choice change depending on which effort is longer/harder/more creative/more analytical? I don't have a dog in this fight, so comment on why your choice is the right one.

(And I will share my secret shame. I had thought -- for a few heady moments! -- I had an alternate valid answer to the NPR challenge. Eider: Swan Lint, thinking that swan down must be a subset of Eiderdown. Nope -- Eider is the specific species of duck. Duck duck not-swan! I lose.)

Oh, and here's your value added puzzle: Today's on-air puzzle involved two-word phrases that shared a word starting with J. Here are some starting with Z:

Petting & keeper
Ground & hour
Time & out
Plains* & print (*valid, but not common)
Celestial & killer

Saturday, May 30, 2009

NYT Sunday 5/31/09 - Reusing Leftovers

We liked the "odd one out" idea used in this Sunday New York Times crossword, but guessed nuts over well before working out the unmatched letters from the long answers. As usual, I solved this in a collaborative effort with Magdalen, who is also a wizard at making leftovers into something new and appetizing.

The choice of nuts over dictated eight long theme entries, all of 15 letters. This seems to have constrained the grid more than usual, as there were several answers that had both of us bemused rather than amused.

The problems were at their worst in the crossing of 59a Dalles and 34d Poncas, neither of which we knew. I was for Poncus/Dulles, while Magdalen favored Ponces/Delles. In typical committee fashion, we settled on our common second choices, which amazingly turned out to be right.
Solving time: 40 mins (no cheating, collaborative effort)
Clue of the puzz: 33a antiperspirants {You raise your arms for these}

"Odd One Out". One letter in each asterisked clue answer is used only once. These eight unmatched letters can be jumbled to make the central across entries 68a nuts, 70a over {Some people are ___ crosswords}.
23a Unitarian Church {Religious affiliation of John Adams and William Howard Taft}
33a antiperspirants {You raise your arms for these}
49a Hippocratic oath {Physician's promise}
86a goes underground {Hides out}
102a insufficiencies {Deficits}
116a tattered and torn {Ragged}
3d private practice {Not firm work?}
46d strenuous effort {Real work}

Kelsey Blakley
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersKelsey Blakley / Will Shortz
Grid21x21 with 71 (16.1%) black squares
Answers138 (average length 5.36)
Theme squares128 (34.6%)
Scrabble points527 (average 1.42)
New To Me

STL46a St. L {Busch Stadium locale: Abbr.}. The first I'd heard of this rather extreme abbreviation for St. Louis, MO. It now occurs to me that the reference to Busch Stadium means we should be thinking of the TLA as it appears in sports results tickers, ie the answer should be rendered STL?

59a Dalles {Oregon city, with "The"}. Here's where we got lucky with our guessed answers: a city that Magdalen hasn't heard of must be obscure indeed. The Dalles has a strange claim to fame as the location of the first bioterrorism attack in the US: the Rajneeshee cult attempted to gain control of local government there by means of salmonella poisoning.

Edred60a Edred {King of England, 946-55}. And a king of England I haven't heard of is pretty obscure too; though, to be fair, those reigning before 1066 were unremarkable except for the ones with funny names - Ethelred the Unready and Harold Harefoot, eg.

113a Effie {___ White, one of the girls in "Dreamgirls"}. We saw Dreamgirls on first release, but I didn't recall that Effie White was the character for which Jennifer Hudson won the 2007 Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

125a Swee {___' Pea}. Swee'Pea is something of a Get Out Of Jail Free card for compilers: swee is a dictionary word, but only has obscure meanings like "the horizontal iron bar which could be swung over an old fireplace, on which cooking vessels were hung" - nobody wants to be faced with that on a Sunday morning. We had Popeye creator Elzie Crisler Segar (18941938) only yesterday and here is another of his characters.

1d tours {Hitches}. Hitch in the sense of "term of service or imprisonment" seems to be peculiar to North America - I can't think of an equivalent British slang term, so they'd do well to adopt "hitch".

6d Anita {Hill of Hill hearings}. Magdalen knew all about Anita Hill, but the associated controversy hadn't reached my ears. Hill's allegations of sexual harassment didn't stop Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court being confirmed by the Senate.

7d Utahns {The Osmonds, e.g.}. We knew we were dealing with the Beehive State here, but couldn't quite believe the spelling of the answer, imagining there should be a second A. It seems both spellings are valid. What was it about the 70s that made these folk so wildly successful?

34d Poncas {Plains Indians}. I'm getting pretty good on three- and four-letter Native American tribes, but the Ponca hadn't come to my attention. Part of the problem with this clue was not knowing whether the answer was in the plural or not - Poncu for example was an unlikely singular, but there could have been a Poncus tribe for all we knew. If the clue had been explicit that the answer was in the plural, that would have made it easier to guess the right answer.

Adriano Banchieri56d Adriano {Italian Renaissance composer Banchieri}. Banchieri (1568–1634) is again pretty obscure and seems an odd choice for Adriano. But then I look down the list of possibilities and don't see one that's better known. Banchieri it has to be then.

95d Eudora {Author Welty}. Eudora Welty (1909–2001) wrote about the American South and won a Pulitzer in 1973 for her novel, The Optimist's Daughter.


40a CDE {Do, re, mi}. The first three notes just happen to be (in the key of C major) C D E. I'd have preferred some indication that the answer assumed a specific key was involved.

112a erat {Quod ___ faciendum}. It was easy to misread this as quod erat demonstrandum, but if you did you'd have got the right answer anyway. Q.E.F. means "which was to have been done."

16d Snert {Comics canine}. Snert and Snerd have made the transition from impossible answers to gimmes in a matter of months. This is the third outing for Hägar the Horrible's dog this year and I could shout out the answer based on clue and length alone. I wonder if we'll ever see his duck Kvack?

sea lily25d crinoid {Sea lily, e.g.}. Crinoid is one of those words that one doesn't normally see in NYT crosswords. I knew it from years of solving difficult cryptics, but its obscurity and lack of potential for lively clueing make it unwelcome. Crinoids can be very beautiful, but crosswords aren't really the medium to express that.

82d enticer {Siren}; 87d desirers {Those with yens}. I don't much like agent nouns as answers, and their plurals are worse still. These wouldn't normally be so noticeable, but they lie alongside each other in the grid and have consecutive clues.

The Rest

1a tape {End of a footrace}; 5a Baum {Creator of Princess Ozma}; 9a NASA {Satellite org.}; 13a Hesse {State below Lower Saxony}; 18a Orr's {"The Pearl of ___ Island" (Stowe novel)}; 19a anti {Opposing}; 20a iMacs {Technological debuts of 1998}; 22a Mauna {Mountain, in Hawaiian}; 26a order {Cry from the bench}; 27a rival {Foe}; 28a Thur. {Ascension Day, e.g.: Abbr.}; 29a steel {Sword material}; 31a warn {Serve notice}; 32a SEATO {Manila pact grp., 1954}; 36a tend {Cultivate}; 38a Señores {Men of La Mancha}; 39a Lex {Big Apple subway line, with "the"}; 42a sea {Sailor's realm}; 44a son {Business partner, sometimes}; 45a vis {French word before and after "à"}; 55a Patri {"Gloria ___" (hymn)}; 57a aero- {Prefix with -naut}; 58a old {Primeval}; 61a PSAT {Challenge for H.S. juniors}; 62a Reds {Film that lost the Best Picture Oscar to "Chariots of Fire"}; 64a seer {Hogwarts professor Trelawney, e.g.}; 65a Crees {Montana Indians}; 66a echo {Pilot's E}; 72a tint {Paint choice}; 73a Alton {Illinois city}; 74a peal {Ring}; 76a enol {Form of acetylacetone}; 78a aura {Corona}; 80a toile {Scenic fabric}; 81a striae {Narrow furrows}; 83a cat {Maine coon, e.g.}; 84a noun {You name it}; 85a rices {Reduces to bits}; 89a ale {Schooner's contents}; 90a eat {Pack away}; 92a rte. {Travel plan: Abbr.}; 93a sou {Trifling amount}; 94a sky {Ocean's reflection}; 95a elm {Boston's Liberty Tree, e.g.}; 96a atheism {Lack of faith}; 100a vise {Jaw site}; 107a no fat {Jack Sprat's dietary restriction}; 110a mild {Not too spicy}; 111a molts {Comes out of one's skin}; 114a axiom {Given}; 119a genre {Class}; 120a a slew {Bunches}; 121a role {Something to play}; 122a ires {Raises the hackles of}; 123a Edgar {Impressionist Degas}; 124a sere {Scorched}; 126a etre {Peut-___ (maybe, in Marseille)}.

2d Arnie {Golf's Palmer, to friends}; 4d estate {Dead giveaway?}; 5d bar {Honky-tonk}; 8d minutest {Least}; 9d NIH {Fed. med. research agency}; 10d amuser {Jester, e.g.}; 11d Sartre {Refuser of a 1964 Nobel Prize}; 12d access {Tap into}; 13d HMO {Managed care grp.}; 14d earwax {Swab's target}; 15d Sudan {Nubian Desert locale}; 17d earns {Pulls in}; 21d Shep {Common name for a working dog}; 24d Alonso {Explorer ___ Álvarez de Pineda, first European to see the Mississippi}; 30d Lili {"___ Marlene" (W.W. II love song)}; 35d respect {1967 #1 hit whose lyrics begin "What you want / Baby, I got it"}; 37d decor {Style of furnishing}; 40d chap {Fellow}; 41d diesel oil {Semi fill-up}; 43d Arlen {Democrat Specter}; 45d VHS {Beta blocker?}; 47d tree-trunk {It may be tapped}; 48d lids {Toppers}; 50d pothole {Driving hazard}; 51d add up to {Total}; 52d oleo {Nondairy product in the dairy section}; 53d Aleve {Popular pain reliever}; 54d Terence {Ancient playwright who originated the phrase "While there's life, there's hope"}; 63d stere {Firewood unit}; 67d oneself {Personal identity}; 69d sais {Je ne ___ quoi}; 71d roars {Laughs one's head off}; 73d Atra {Razor brand}; 75d Lauren {Supermodel Hutton}; 77d Lt Gov {State V.I.P.: Abbr.}; 79d Andy {Tennis's Roddick}; 81d Sgt. {Towser, e.g., in "Catch-22": Abbr.}; 88d ruined {Shot}; 91d AM-FM {___ radio}; 96d A-Class {Mercedes-Benz model}; 97d tittle {Whit}; 98d Hester {Prynne of "The Scarlet Letter"}; 99d meadow {Lark's home}; 101d softie {Pushover}; 102d image {Persona}; 103d nixed {Canceled}; 104d sling {Primitive weapon}; 105d iota {Whit}; 106d stale {Banal}; 108d airer {Telecaster}; 109d tense {Cliff-hanging}; 115d mer {French 42-Across}; 117d ewe {She can be polled}; 118d née {Born overseas}.

Friday, May 29, 2009

NYT Saturday 5/30/09 - Zed Alley

I raced through this Saturday New York Times crossword, finishing it in about half the time for yesterday's exceptionally tough one. I started in the bottom half and it didn't take long to see that Zs were the order of the day; once I got on the compiler's wavelength I made reasonable progress throughout the grid.

There were two areas which I had my doubts about: the SW corner, where I didn't know swage and just hoped there weren't any ambiguities in the first letters of the acrosses; and the SE corner where I didn't know Giro and wasn't sure of my guesses danged and Zen.

Given Zs were the mini-theme of the puzzle, I should have been more alert to what was going on at 59-Down, but somehow was blind to the anomalistic spelling in the clue. When I finally stopped work, it didn't take Magdalen very long to point out the mistakes to me.
Solving time: 26 mins (no cheating, three wrong answers)
Clue of the puzz: 15d socks {Belts}

Matt Ginsberg
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersMatt Ginsberg / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 35 (15.6%) black squares
Answers72 (average length 5.28)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points448 (average 2.36)
New To Me

Spaceman Spiff45a Zog {Planet visited by Spaceman Spiff in "Calvin and Hobbes"}. All alien planets seem to be called Zog, so I managed to guess this without seeing many of the relevant strip. The Walter Mittyesque Calvin finds school less than riveting and imagines himself exploring the universe "by popular request" as Spaceman Spiff.

51a Mama {"___ Said" (1961 hit)}. It's Saturday, so we're not told the artist(s). It wouldn't have helped much anyway. Mama Said was originally performed by The Shirelles, and has since been covered by numerous other artists.

Popeye6d Elzie {Cartoonist Segar}. I'd never have guess Elzie was a guy's name (there's some raw work pulled at the font, as Bertie Wooster was fond of saying). Elzie Crisler Segar (18941938) was the creator of Popeye the Sailor.

Clyde Fitch13d Fitch {Clyde ___, "Beau Brummell" playwright, 1890}. Clyde Fitch (18651909) wrote over 60 plays and had the mustaches to go with it. Beau Brummell was his first notable work, a biodram (my coinage ... if it doesn't exist, it should) about the Regency dandy.

pomade25d pomatum {Fragrant hair dressing}. I thought of pomade right away, but it didn't have the decency to fit in the space. It gets close though: it turns out pomatum is the more pompous term, both being based on the pomum (Latin for apple).

swage block44d swage {Metalworking tool}. This word was definitely not in my vocabulary, so I had my doubts but got lucky. A swage is a shaped tool or die used to give the desired form to metal being hammered or forced through under pressure. The accompanying picture shows a block with swages of various sizes and cross-sections.

Giro helmet54d Giro {Big name in cycling helmets}. Giro is not a big enough name to have come to my attention before. I wrongly guess Gira, which scotched the SE corner for me.


Yitzhak Rabin19a Yitzhak {Shimon's predecessor}. Remembering Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres wasn't difficult. Spelling Rabin's forename was, and I had several goes at it before the down answers fitted. This plaque in Tel Aviv marks the spot where Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish right-wing extremist in 1995.

21a vac {Sucker, quickly}. At one point I had vic, thinking this might be short for victim ... and maybe it is, but a shortening of vacuum cleaner makes sense too.

kava ceremony36a kava {Polynesian libation}. Know it from dictionaries, not first hand. Used by the Polynesians as a mild tranquilizer, kava preparations are now available in the West as a herbal remedy for anxiety disorders.

Whitaker Point, The Ozarks49a Ozark {County in Missouri or county seat in Arkansas}. Another guess that turned out well for me: having already placed half a dozen Zs, I somehow got into the compiler's mindset and a geographic name with both a Z and a K popped into my head. The Ozarks are the most extensive mountains between the Rockies in the west and the Appalachians in the east.

63a dodged {Hemmed and hawed}. Not knowing Giro and getting zed wrong, I somehow justified this to myself as danged ... imagining a backwoods guy prevaricating with "dang ... I don't know". I guess dodged can be used in the sense of dodging a question and it certainly gives more sensible letters for the down answers!

15d socks {Belts}. I love clues where in one context (clothing), the equivalence of clue and answer makes no sense; but only think of the right context (punching) and it all works out.

31d tar {Cap'n, say}. I'm not sure about this clue, because I always think of tars as being "below decks" sorts. I'm not sure the cap'n of a ship would appreciate being called it.

Zed Alley59d zed {Lack of organisation?}. My problem here was that I couldn't look at "organisation" and see anything odd. Natives would presumably notice the variation of spelling from the usual "organization" and hence arrive at the British spelling of the letter Z. That didn't work for me, and I meditatively settled for Zen ... It didn't surprise me that a better answer existed.

The Rest

1a just me {Response to "Is anyone else here?"}; 7a B and B {Travel mag listing}; 12a one half {Just over a minority}; 14a Sampras {Sports star who wrote the 2008 best seller "A Champion's Mind"}; 16a Jacuzzi {"Water that moves you" sloganeer}; 17a chorizo {Spanish pork sausage}; 18a owl {Nighttime noisemaker}; 22a Baum {"Mother Goose in Prose" author, 1897}; 24a E. coli {Cause of some food recalls}; 25a peak {Busiest}; 26a ardor {Spirit}; 28a hoo {Sob syllable}; 29a fours {All ___ (card game)}; 30a see out {Complete, as a task}; 32a scrimps {Is hardly extravagant}; 34a clap {Summon a servant, maybe}; 37a spheric {Round}; 40a petard {Gate-breaching bomb}; 44a sloes {Sour fruit}; 47a rumor {It's often unfounded}; 48a wold {Chain of treeless rolling hills}; 52a awe {Floor}; 53a hoaxing {April Fools' Day activity}; 55a zag {Turn sharply}; 56a gin-fizz {Drink with lemon juice}; 58a seizing {Appropriation}; 60a Estevez {Brat Pack member}; 61a Terence {Ancient Roman writer of comedies}; 62a hazed {Initiated unpleasantly}.

1d jojobas {Southwestern shrubs yielding a cosmetic oil}; 2d unaware {Not with it}; 3d seclude {Screen}; 4d Thu. {Day "Cheers" was on: Abbr.}; 5d mazy {Tangled and interwoven}; 7d Bahai {Believer advocating universal brotherhood}; 8d amok {Uncontrollably}; 9d NPR {D.C.-based news org.}; 10d drive up {Convenient kind of window}; 11d bazaars {Some charity events}; 14d schlock {Junk}; 20d zoos {Sites of some exhibits}; 23d mooched {Sponged}; 27d rules {Is way cool}; 29d fiver {Fin}; 33d rap {Criticize}; 35d pizzazz {Flair}; 37d slowish {Larghetto}; 38d polenta {Staple of northern Italy}; 39d coax {Urge}; 41d amazing {Not just great}; 42d romance {Court}; 43d dragged {Never seemed to end}; 46d grist {Mill fill}; 49d oozed {Fell through the cracks?}; 50d kneed {Hit below the belt}; 53d hive {Queen's quarters}; 57d fez {Casablanca wear}.

NPR Puzzle -- 5/24/09 Not So Evel Knievel

What are some other names that, like Galileo Galilei, basically repeat themselves? Or rather, what are some famous names -- we can well imagine Richard Richards or Steven Stevenson, but I can't think of too many famous people with that construct. Comment if you can think of some.

Galileo was, of course, the answer to last Sunday's puzzle. A couple days ago I was watching an episode of "Numb3rs" when someone mentioned Galileo Galilei and Ross got all excited; I had to show him that the episode had aired in late April. (I'm just a bit backed up on my DVR watching.) I think he imagined that everyone watching would immediately think, "Oh, that's the answer!"

As you can see from the comments from last Sunday, it's hard to know what is an acceptable hint in these situations. What I wanted to say about Galileo was a story from law school.

I'd made friends with a biologist named Rob who had a Ph.D. in his field (and even a patent or two) but had burned out and decided to go to law school. (It didn't suit him, though, and he went back to microbiology after a semester.) He had had a really tough time getting divorced from his first wife because he'd tried to get a proper Catholic annulment. Well, I gather (I'm not Catholic, so my apologies for any factual errors in this story) that it rather depends on what diocese you are in when you try to get the annulment. For what it's worth, Rob wasn't successful. What amused us first year law students were the procedural aspects of the quasi-legal effort. I asked Rob about an appeal (he seemed to have qualified for at least one of the official grounds for annulment, so it wasn't an unreasonable question), but he said that the appellate court in the Vatican was a teeny bit backed up.

"Oh? How long would it take for your case to be heard?" I asked

"Let's put it this way," Rob explained. "Galileo only just got his posthumous appeal granted!"

This left me wondering about the celestial drafts as successful appeals result in souls whizzing past us going to Heaven from Hell, but that's just because I can on occasion be inappropriately literal.

Back to the value-added puzzles: The first one,
Name a device in ten letters that uses only letters in the top row of a standard typewriter keyboard, i.e., QWERTYUIOP.
is an oldie but goody: The answer is in the question, namely TYPEWRITER.

The second one struck me as a bit harder, obviously, as I used TEA to look it up.
Name an American sports personality (4, 9) whose name has only letters in the first half of the alphabet. (By way of a further hint, Ross allowed as how the name only relies on the letters BCDEFGHIJKL, so no As or Ms.)
The answer is Bill Belichick.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

NYT Friday 5/29/09 - Red-Letter Puzzle

This Friday New York Times crossword has some of the most evil cluing I've seen: if I hadn't been able to finish, I'd have cried foul; but since I did finish, I have to say this is a great puzzle (even if it took me a dog's age to do).

The grid is a beauty, with the average answer length coming in at exactly 6 - I certainly prefer end-of-week grids like this with lots of answers in the eight- to ten-letter range. Ones trying to cram in 15-letter answers tend to need a corresponding number of three-letter ones to make the grid fillable: it's a lot harder to make clues to three-letter answers interesting.
Solving time: 48 mins (no cheating)
Clue of the puzz: 26a centre {Middle of the British Isles?}

Randolph Ross
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersRandolph Ross / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 27 (12.0%) black squares
Answers66 (average length 6.00)
Theme squares0 (0.0%)
Scrabble points284 (average 1.43)
New To Me

15a e-note {Online message}. Anyone else start with e-mail? e-note is a plausible coinage, but I haven't yet worked out quite what the compiler had in mind: perhaps the anonymous email service So I'm not really happy with e-note - if I can't justify an answer from my own dictionaries, I hope to at least find it in Wikipedia.

43a fer {Backwoods pro?}. It took a while to figger out this one: fer is a countrified way of pronouncing "for", hence "backwoods pro". Looking through previous NYT clues to fer, I'm amazed no-one's yet tried "Van de Velde's iron"!

Travis Tritt10d Tritt {Singer of the #1 country hit "Foolish Pride"}. Foolish Pride was Travis Tritt's first single from his 1994 album Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof.

12d Nate, 20d the Great {Kiddie-lit counterpart of Sherlock Holmes}. The rhyme was very helpful in reconciling the two answer parts: Nate the Great is a series of novels by Marjorie Sharmat, which began in 1972 and now has over 20 titles. Nate solves crimes with the help of his dog Sludge.

14d Eero {Finnish pentathlete Lehtonen}. We get Eero Saarinen a lot, so I just hoped that all Finns are called Eero and I got lucky! Eero Lehtonen was a pentathelete who won gold medals in 1920 and 1924 - quite an 'ero in his day!

Herb Caen26d Caen {Columnist who wrote "Don't Call It Frisco," 1953}. Herb Caen (19161997) wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle and, briefly, the San Francisco Examiner. The title of his book is a good piece of advice to non-natives. Herb went out with a bang, making arrangements in his will for a fireworks display after his death.

poker spur32d spur {Poker variety?}. This was a particularly nasty clue, as most solvers would, I suspect, put in stud. I'm not 100% of my explanation here, but I'm assuming the spur is the spiky bit at the side of many fireplace pokers.


1a digit {Place holder?}. You put a finger in a book to keep your place, right? Neat clue.

6a past tense {"Lost" category}. Nothing to do with the mysterious TV series, which is a carefully selected example to throw us off the scent. Evil clue.

Dunsop Bridge26a centre {Middle of the British Isles?}. You might think I have an advantage with clues like this, but I don't - to me there's nothing odd about the spelling centre and it took me ages to work out what was going on here. For what it's worth, the geographical center of the British Isles is near Dunsop Bridge in Lancashire.

56a lease {Flat piece of paper?}. In crossword clues, the assumption seems to be that flats are always leased. This clue might have been harder for natives: "flat" suggested apartment to me immediately - I didn't even think about differences between US and British usage until writing this commentary.

Room at Arles58a Arles {Where some sunflowers were painted}. This was one of the earliest clues I got: I knew that many Van Gogh paintings mentioned the town of Arles and just hoped that he also painted sunflowers there.

Torah scrolls stamp9d tav {Torah's beginning?}. A cute way of defining the 22nd letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Torah being spelled תּוֹרָה (tav-vav-resh-heh).

42d dry ice {Picnic cooler}. Ice in a picnic cooler makes sense, but dry ice - isn't that overkill? I'm trying to think of any time I've seen a picnicgoer trailing clouds of condensation from a container - no it's never happened. That doesn't mean to no-one uses dry ice - here's an article on the subj. They don't sell dry ice to minors - with good reason based on all the YouTube clips I saw - here's one of the tamer ones:

The Rest

16a aspartame {Equal, essentially}; 17a A-flat {G neighbor}; 18a RCA Victor {Introducer of 45's in '49}; 19a red-letter {Memorable}; 21a the go {What busy people are on}; 22a Oreo {Ice cream mix-in}; 23a honest {Like some opinions}; 25a Lin {"In the Heights" Tony winner ___-Manuel Miranda}; 27a laic {Congregational}; 31a dog's age {Long while}; 33a Salerno {Allied landing site of September 1943}; 35a draper {Derby dry-goods dealer}; 36a Heaton {"Everybody Loves Raymond" Emmy winner Patricia}; 37a attunes {Gets in sync}; 39a woofing {Kennel clamor}; 40a doer {Action figure?}; 41a alders {Charcoal wood sources}; 44a stares {Some are blank}; 45a wise {Oracular}; 46a spout {Jet}; 50a type-faces {Producers of some bold words}; 52a Henry VIII {Charlton Heston's "The Prince and the Pauper" role}; 54a Ivins {Columnist Molly}; 55a in balance {Homeostatic}; 57a any longer {From this moment on}.

1d dear old dad {Pops}; 2d inferior to {Beneath}; 3d Golden Gate {Sir Francis Drake discovery of 1579}; 4d Italo- {Ethnic prefix}; 5d tête {Head of Notre Dame}; 6d Part One {Series kickoff}; 7d ascent {Way up}; 8d sparers {They let people off}; 11d etch {Prepare a plate, perhaps}; 13d smog {Cause of a bad air day?}; 24d sea-horse {Cousin of a stickleback}; 27d leaf {One that's stalked}; 28d artificial {Like 16-Across}; 29d in one sense {From a particular perspective}; 30d congresses {Meetings of delegates}; 34d Leos {Some July arrivals}; 38d slating {Roof work}; 39d weepier {Comparatively maudlin}; 44d stylo {Parisian pen}; 45d waver {Not stick to one's guns}; 46d Shia {Ayatollah, e.g.}; 47d Penn {State-founding Friend}; 48d On By {"Walk ___" (1964 hit)}; 49d Ural {The Ilek is one of its tributaries}; 51d Fila {Adidas alternative}; 53d van {It'll help you make your move}.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NYT Thursday 5/28/09 - Get It Over With

Surprisingly, this Thursday New York Times crossword was done quicker than yesterday's, perhaps because I knew I'd have to do the write-up before going to bed (we've got another day trip to Philly tomorrow) and wanted to get it over with.

I did get one letter wrong, but I don't think spending more time would have helped there: in fact, trying to think logically about 47a Oca and 41d Magilla led me to erase the correct letter and put in a wrong one.

The rebus theme was interestingly different to usual, with groups of squares representing the central across answer "get over it" (fairly unhelpful advice in my experience). By the time I realized what was going on, I already had the two lower GET/IT groups, but predicting where the upper two would go was helpful for answers like 17a page-turner and 21a Roget's.
Solving time: 19 mins (no cheating, two wrong answers)
Clue of the puzz: 17a page-turner {Something that's hard to close?}

36a get over it {Advice for the brokenhearted ... or one of four arrangements found literally in this puzzle}. The letters GET appear just above IT in each of the four grid corners.


Gary Cee
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersGary Cee / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 32 (14.2%) black squares
Answers76 (average length 5.08)
Theme squares29 (15.0%)
Scrabble points265 (average 1.37)
New To Me

32a Eli {___ Broad College of Business}. Once I'd sorted out the down answers, Eli seemed an eminently suitable first name for a college founder. Eli Broad (rhymes with road) is an American billionaire who endowed the College of Business at his alma mater Michigan State University.

47a Oca {Mozart's "L'___ del Cairo"}. L'Oca del Cairo is an obscure opera from a composer I don't usually seek out these days. The work seemed to be one of his Italian ones and I wrote in Oca before deciding that it must be Oce, which I hoped was Italian for "ocean". Big mistake not to go with my first instinct on this one. Incidentally, Oca is Italian for "goose".

54a UMW {Diggers' org.}. Magdalen and I are both off to the dentist again tomorrow, so I wondered if this would be the American Dental Association. The diggers in the clue have a less delicate task to do, their union being the United Mine Workers.

Bela Kun59a Béla {Hungarian Communist leader ___ Kun}. Another unfamiliar name, though I got to thinking that if one famous Hungarian - Bartók - was a Béla, then Kun might be too. Béla Kun (1886–1938) founded the Communist Party in Hungary and set up a Soviet republic in Budapest in March 1919. This failed to gain popular support and Kun fled for his life in August of the same year.

18d Talese {"The Kingdom and the Power" author, 1969}. I came across Gay Talese in a previous NYT crossword this year, so the name didn't freak me out, but there was no chance I'd recognize the book title. The Kingdom and the Power is the inside story of The New York Times, where Talese had worked for 12 years.

22d Gus {Director Van Sant}. Gus Van Sant is the director of such movies as Good Will Hunting (1997) and Milk (2008).

29d Rego {___ Park, N.Y.}. I could have got into trouble over the last letter, but the crossing limo seemed secure. Rego Park is not a park, but a neighborhood in Queens; it's named after the Real Good Construction Company, which developed the area in the 1920s.

41d Magilla {___ Gorilla, 1960s cartoon title character}. I had no ideas about this cartoon, so I got into trouble with the second letter: I started with Magilla/Oca then changed my mind and thought Megilla/Oce more likely. Magilla Gorilla was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, produced between 1963 and 1967. Here's an example:


17a page-turner {Something that's hard to close?}. A lovely deceptive definition - I only worked it out after seeing where one of the GETs had to go.

21a Roget's {Editor's resource}. Ie Roget's Thesaurus, an essential resource expedient if you're trying to avoid repetition.

35a one g {Force felt on earth}. I love this clue, as it kept me in suspense for a long time as to what this force might be. Of course, it turned out to be what you'd expect - gravity - just in a form we're not used to hearing.

67a Eres {"___ Tu" (1974 hit)}. Eres Tu is Spanish for "you are" and was a hit for Mocedades, being chosen as Spain's entry in the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest. I wouldn't have known any of this, except virtually the same clue came up in the April 1st NYT puzzle.

alameda2d alameda {Tree-lined avenue}. Definitely not an everyday word for me, but somewhere in the avenues of my mind, I knew this word existed.
alameda n a public walk, esp between rows of poplars.
From The Chambers Dictionary
44d stutter {Sound before "That's all, folks!"}. What a great way to clue stutter - another tough clue that was obviously right once you saw the answer, the stutterer being Porky the Pig.

45d Someone {Gershwin's "___ to Watch Over Me"}. A gimme, as this is one of my fav jazz standards.

48d MTM {'70s TV production co.}. The only reason I recalled MTM Enterprises was of course their kitten logo, parodying MGM's. In fact I remember the kitten more than any of the shows that preceded it, which could have been Hill Street Blues, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or summat else.

59d BMI {Songwriters' grp.}. Another answer dredged up from who-knows-where: Broadcast Music Incorporated is one of three US performing rights orgs. along with ASCAP and SESAC. Three acronyms you've got to know apparently.

The Rest

1a calm {Not having big waves}; 5a Sousa {Bandmaster from 1880 to 1931}; 10a twos {The animals for Noah's Ark came in these}; 14a alee {"Hard ___!" (captain's order)}; 15a agree {Match}; 16a a rut {Stuck, after "in"}; 19a kite {Relative of a hawk}; 20a imitate {Mirror}; 23a ter {Three times, in prescriptions}; 24a less {Nothing ___}; 26a suitor {George Knightley, to Emma Woodhouse}; 28a adores {Prizes}; 30a efts {Small amphibians}; 33a lanes {What road hogs hog}; 34a Brea {City in Orange County, Calif.}; 39a limo {Wedding rental}; 42a hoed {Like many a garden}; 43a Rossi {Vintner Martini's associate}; 48a menu {It may start with "Starters"}; 49a Breton {Dweller on the Bay of Biscay}; 50a begets {Fathers}; 52a pare {Skin}; 55a bitmap {Certain computer image format}; 57a sage-tea {Herbal beverage}; 60a inquisitor {One in search of heretics}; 62a melt {Go weak at the knees}; 63a nears {Verges on}; 64a rend {Split}; 65a IRAs {Personal reserve funds, for short}; 66a tutee {Eliza Doolittle in "Pygmalion," e.g.}.

1d capital {Financing}; 3d leg-iron {Houdini escape device}; 4d meet {Where races are run}; 5d sautés {Browns}; 6d ogres {Giants of folklore}; 7d urn {Ossuary, maybe}; 8d seer {Samuel, e.g., in the Bible}; 9d Aerostar {Ford's first minivan}; 10d Takei {George of "Star Trek"}; 11d written {Set down}; 12d outsole {Shoe part that touches the floor}; 13d Ste. {Marthe or Marie: Abbr.}; 25d serve up {Produce and present}; 27d rig {Teamster's transport}; 31d feed {Barn sackful}; 34d boon {Blessing}; 35d Otoe {Tribe met by Lewis and Clark}; 37d The Saint {1960s Roger Moore TV series}; 38d irregs. {Discount store offerings, for short}; 39d lob {High pitch}; 40d ice beer {Brew introduced in the 1990s}; 46d inwards {Toward the center}; 49d braise {Cook, in a way, as beef}; 51d Etats {Les ___-Unis}; 53d a sure {"It's ___ bet!"}; 56d PNEU {French tire}; 58d Eire {The Chieftains' home}; 61d qat {African plant whose leaves are chewed as a stimulant}.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

NYT Wednesday 5/27/09 - Britspeak

This Wednesday New York Times crossword seems to have been compiled just for me. But knowing all the American and British equivalents didn't help much: what really held me up was three little answers - opt, out and cop which took me around 5 minutes at the end. I was convinced I would be able to justify "Friday, notably", but in fact never stood a chance with it; luckily opt-out clauses came to me in the end.

One of my cryptic crosswords in the Listener series was based on a similar idea, which was prescient given that I was destined to emigrate to the US - I won't give too many details as the puzzle has been given a new lease of life in the latest anthology Listener Crosswords: From the Times of London.
Solving time: 20 mins (no cheating)
Clue of the puzz: 14a ale {Draft pick?}

Four expressions "translated" into Britspeak:
20a keep on lorryin' {Words of encouragement to a Brit?} (keep on truckin')
29a conga queue {Group of dancing Brits?} (conga line)
46a wise blokes {British smart alecks?} (wise guys)
56a catch some zeds {Sleep like a Brit?} (catch some zees)

Corey Rubin
Grid art by Sympathy [about the grid colors]

CompilersCorey Rubin / Will Shortz
Grid15x15 with 37 (16.4%) black squares
Answers78 (average length 4.82)
Theme squares46 (24.5%)
Scrabble points323 (average 1.72)
New To Me

60a hubba {When doubled, a wolf's call}. A cause for bemusement then amusement, as I don't think I ever heard "hubba hubba" used in the UK, the wolf whistle or "phwoar!" being a more common way of showing appreciation for someone's appearance. (The wolf in all these references being the seducing, not lupine, variety.)

22d Rea {"The Crying Game" Oscar nominee}. Stephen Rea plays IRA member Fergus in The Crying Game, a 1992 film set in the Troubles.

29d cop {Friday, notably}. This little answer really held me up at the end. I thought I was clever by putting in Man, but that was very counter-productive. I had to get this answer the hard way and then get confirmation from Magdalen that it was right and a reference to Dragnet (which I only know indirectly from spoofs such as Police Squad!).

33d Loeb {Leopold's partner in a sensational 1924 trial}. Well it could only be Loeb, but why?? Leopold and Loeb were University of Chicago students who tried to commit the "perfect" crime by murdering a 14-year-old boy. They were sentenced to life, but Loeb was murdered in prison in 1936. The case was influential on art, being the inspiration for Rope, which was famously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock.


1a jab {One-two part}. I first thought this "one-two" was something to do with music ... wrong! In boxing lingo, a one-two is a jab followed by a cross.

14a ale {Draft pick?}. An old un' but a good un'.
John Keats
15a Ode On {Keats title starter}. Usually odeon would be "Ancient Greek Theater" or "Popular theater name". John Keats was generous to give us this alternative by writing Ode On Indolence and the like.

38a opt, 30d out {Kind of clause}. Not knowing 29-Down, I got really stuck on these two at the end. Is it fair to clue two crossing answers interdependently like this? I certainly had trouble with it, but then I do know what an opt-out clause is, so maybe it's my bad?

touchdown41a TDs {Causes for stadium cheers, for short}. Hey! A football reference I know ... touchdown!

63a Ali {Sacha Baron Cohen character ___ G}. Ali G's comedy is sometimes at the expense of others, but those others sometimes merit being humiliated.

2d aliens {Vulcans and Romulans}. Vulcans and Romulans are alien races from the Star Trek franchise, both conveniently humanoid. We saw the new Star Trek movie over the weekend and found it about as silly as the original series; that is to say, we enjoyed it a lot.

7d go-round {Bout}; 10d mix it up {Have a tussle}. These two idioms seem to go happily together: a go-round is an encounter in a conflict of some kind and to mix it up is to be belligerent verbally or physically.

9d A Boy {Bernstein/Sondheim's "___ Like That"}. A Boy Like That is from Act 2 of West Side Story.

12d -ory {Direct conclusion?}; 13d -ose {Sugar suffix}. Two adjacent suffixes, however they are dressed up, seems to me particularly ugly and worth avoiding.

48d ochres {Earth tones}. I was surprised not to see this indicated as a Brit-spelling - isn't ochers the normal American rendering?

The Rest

4a corgi {Cattle-herding breed}; 9a am too {Playground retort}; 16a biers {Stands at wakes}; 17a cir. {Diam. x pi}; 18a board {Get on}; 19a oxeye {Daisy type}; 23a until {Up to}; 24a UAE {Abu Dhabi's fed.}; 25a tics {Little jerks}; 28a psst {"Hey, over here!"}; 32a aloud {One way to think}; 34a upset {Dark horse's win}; 35a ham {Eggs Benedict need}; 39a ami {Aramis, to Athos}; 42a elute {Extract with a solvent}; 44a exude {Give off}; 49a limp {Favor one side, perhaps}; 53a nein {Dresden denial}; 54a ace {Sail through}; 55a video {Wedding memento}; 62a rotor {Turbine part}; 64a a roll {On ___ (hot)}; 65a euros {Money in la banque}; 66a let {Net judge's call}; 67a pixel {iPhone display unit}; 68a stone {Piece in the game of go}; 69a sys. {Method: Abbr.}.

1d jack up {Hike, as a price}; 3d berets {Left Bank toppers}; 4d Cobol {Computer language in Y2K news}; 5d OD on {Take too much of, briefly}; 6d real {True-to-life}; 8d in drag {Clad like some Halloween paraders}; 11d teeniest {Hardest to see, perhaps}; 21d pita {Hummus holder}; 26d cued {Like some actors going on stage}; 27d sets {Things some designers design}; 31d quid {British pound, informally}; 35d hewn {Rough-___ (unfinished)}; 36d a lie {Get caught in ___}; 37d music-box {It may have a spinning ballerina}; 39d axe {Pink-slip}; 40d mus {Lambda followers}; 43d tenable {Like a solid argument}; 44d ekes out {Just manages}; 45d Eliz. {Monarch crowned in 1558: Abbr.}; 47d Lac {Geneva's ___ Léman}; 50d ideals {Worthy principles}; 51d medley {This-and-that concert performance}; 52d posits {Puts forth}; 55d verse {Chapter's partner}; 57d tall {Seven-foot, say}; 58d otro {Other, in Oaxaca}; 59d moon {Provide with a rear view?}; 60d hap {Chance, poetically}; 61d URI {Ocean State sch.}.